When I look back on these past four months living in a foreign country, I am astounded and still somewhat overwhelmed by my experiences. During my time in Italy, I have made profound discoveries about myself and the world I live in, delighted in a new cuisine, and visited over twenty museums, all while taking six studio courses! How did I make it all work? An eighteen credit course load is an unusual amount of credits for anyone to take on a semester abroad, but I need every single one of them to graduate on time. I found that, without the usual places and people to go to and be around, I had an incredible amount of time to be with myself. I also chose to rent an Airbnb rather than live in the residence. I live in the south of Rome, while the school and residence are in the northern part of the city. How did I fill my hours of solitude? Most of the time I was in the studio on campus. One of the nice things about Temple Rome’s campus is that if you are a student in Advanced Painting, you are automatically given a studio on the second floor. It is a little cubicle without a door, but oftentimes there were only about five of us who were really dedicated to our practice. This space was my little corner for four months. Sometimes I would come in before anyone else and play my music out loud, lay all my work out on the floor, like Pollack, and create a great big beautiful mess. Sometimes I would come in quietly in the afternoon and work diligently and precisely. And sometimes I would come in at night and find the studio full and chat loudly with friends. The studio on this campus is a very lived place in my mind.
Where there is work there is also rest. What did I do when I could not be in the studio or needed to take a break from the studio? This is the harder part. Working is one thing–it can project you forward in space and time. You have something to occupy yourself so things are easier. Being alone is another thing. You are faced with the parts of yourself you would rather drown out with the noise of your own labor. I have spent a lot of time alone here. I described it to one friend as, “being lonely here and hating it, and being alone here and loving it.” While I worked very hard to get here, I owe my success in part to the support I have back at home. I really hated being apart from a couple of my best friends while I was here. I find that true friendship takes time to forge. While I was sowing the seeds to solidify relationships on campus here, I found myself craving the people I can call up at any moment at home and ask to go on an adventure.
I’ve felt homesick most of my time here, and yet there were moments within that time where I also felt thrilled to be with myself and myself alone. Something in my spirit loves to wander, and what better place to wander than in a foreign city? My challenge was finding a quiet place where I could wander in peace. In my post “Hidden Treasures of the Tiber: A Home Away From Home,” I wrote about my connection to the river as a source of positive energy and creativity for myself. Certainly in my time by myself, I went to countless museums and parks and would cook for myself or take myself out to eat, but the Tiber was one of the few places where I could really be quiet and sit with myself. It was important for me to find this place so that I could have many of the self revelations that I did.
Being alone also gave me time to treat myself. I budgeted very diligently for my trip here, so much so that I was pleased to find I had a little extra money to buy some things for myself. I spent several weekends scouring thrift stores for a couple new outfits. Later I took myself to Porta Portese to buy myself and friends some interesting jewelry and antiques. My time here allowed me to focus on myself and further understand what my needs and desires are as a human being, while challenging me by presenting new situations, existing outside anything I had had to come to terms with before.
I also faced some very difficult things during my time here. Spending four months with yourself can bring to light interesting and unhealthy habits and cycles we all express in one way or another. The way I communicate with myself and others was challenged deeply. There were several instances here where I realized I was not being very kind to myself and therefore to others. There were also instances where I realized habits I have to keep problems at bay rather than asserting them to understand them. My Rome Sketchbook professor, Roberto Caracciolo, obtained an injury by kneeling on the floor to do his work. This ended up putting so much stress on one of his knees that he had to walk with crutches most of the semester. Roberto realized he had a habit that no longer served him and now had to learn how to replicate his process sitting at a table. In regards to this he said, “Perhaps this is just a part of growing up.” Every challenge, every trial and every tribulation I have encountered here has existed because there was a part of me I needed to see from a different perspective. Therefore, they too, are all a part of growing up.